How Does Infection Prevention Work in Healthcare Facilities?
Everyone has an experience or second-hand account of dreading hospital waiting rooms and primary care offices for fear of coming down with some new illness. While picking up a cold can be an unpleasant outcome of visiting a healthcare space, the potential for infection can be severe and incredibly dangerous for patients and workers alike. What are some of the steps that healthcare facilities take to prevent infection?
Overview of HAIs
HAIs, or heath care-associated infections, are a major patient safety issue in healthcare facilities. Defined by the CDC as, “[infections] that develop during hospitalization but are neither present nor incubating upon the patient’s admission to the hospital,” the scope of HAIs is widely understood to extend beyond the hospital to the full range of healthcare spaces, such as ambulances, long-term care facilities, and at-home care. As an indicator of the quality of patient care, HAIs can result in a number of undesirable outcomes for facilities, but consequences are more dire for patients, for whom a health care-related infection can result in longer hospital stays, increased cost of care, significant illness, and death. Fortunately, HAIs can be prevented with a variety of effective measures.
Health Care Workers
Health care workers are usually the first and last line of defense against HAIs, and some of the most effective measures they can take to prevent infection are some of the most basic. For example, the efficacy of hand-washing has been shown by many studies to cut down on the rate of infection in healthcare facilities and to be one of the cheapest, most effective procedures for infection prevention, yet lack of consistent hand-washing in medical settings is still a problem worldwide. Washing hands, using sterile gloves and face masks, and sanitizing equipment can help to prevent all types of infection, whether transmitted via touch, through air, or through droplets.
Patient Care Rooms
In patient care rooms, infection prevention works by isolating patients with the potential to infect others, thereby minimizing the risk of transmission by any of the common vectors. In the case of an airborne disease, for instance, patients should be placed in a room with monitored negative airflow pressure, also known as a negative pressure room, to ensure that airborne microorganisms are not able to infect the rest of the facility. Air from negative pressure rooms should either be vented outdoors or specially filtered and disinfected before being allowed back into circulation.
In high-risk areas such as surgical operating rooms, taking consistent measures towards preventing infection can be the difference between life and death. Surgical complications such as surgical site infections are one of the most frequently occurring adverse effects for hospital patients. By sterilizing surfaces and surgical implements, using sterile masks and gloves, and taking appropriate precautions to sanitize the air, surgical infections can be reduced.
To truly mitigate the risk of HAIs, infection prevention must extend beyond patient care rooms throughout the facility. From facility management to food service to waiting rooms, sanitation and proper ventilation should be a priority. Air filters should be maintained and changed regularly, as airborne microorganisms can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time.
For all healthcare facilities, infection prevention should be an integral part of protocol to protect patient health. By creating, implementing, and following infection prevention best practices from the structure and maintenance of the facility down to the actions of health care workers and other staff, minimizing risk of HAIs is possible and necessary for positive patient outcomes.
Want to know more about preventing HAIs? Download our free whitepaper for information about the tools available to prevent infection in healthcare facilities.